The Company Hostage

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The company had a very old ASRS, Automated Storage and Retrieval System to store the majority of it’s finished product inventory.  We were in transition as the company had gone into receivership and was run by an investment corporation that was trying to keep overall costs as low as possible while they prayed and searched for a buyer.  The system was so old that in the era of CD drives it still used floppy disc to operate the system that was, to say the least, fragile.  It could freeze up due to trouble reading a dirty license plate or from a loud sneeze or other inexplicable reason and have to be rebooted.

The cost to upgrade was enough that our benevolent keepers felt hiding their heads in the sand and ignoring the problem would magically make it stop hurting the bottom line but it was every time the ASRS was down.  It interfered with production in that when you can’t put the product into storage you can’t keep packaging it and when you can’t retrieve product to ship you can’t invoice.  In addition, a lot of overtime was spent on having workers move and stack product anywhere they could in the facility so the packaging of the product could continue but that also led to inventory issues of lost and misplaced product which became a nightmare for our production scheduler. 

Our keepers also didn’t see how over time the leadership on-site had surrendered its authority and through attrition and neglect, there was only a handful of employees left who not only knew how to operate the ASRS but how to keep it going and no one in management noticed the pending issue or thought to make plans for rectifying the situation because they were too busy putting out fires or pointing fingers at one another. 

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Things had actually been moving along pretty well during the last few weeks with only a few minor hiccups of the ASRS and word the company may have found a new owner but on this particular warm sunny afternoon, a few employees were caught smoking a joint in the back of the shipping building.  Marijuana was not yet legal in any form in any state and in accordance with the company zero tolerance policy, they were terminated on the spot. The problem was of the five caught smoking, three were ASRS operators which was more than half the staff as well half the only people who could operate the system.  

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The “IT” really hit the fan, of course, during the graveyard shift after they had forced swing shift for four hours, allowable by contract no one else showed up to operate the ASRS.  Management hadn’t realized that there was no one else available that had been trained to operate the system.  They had screwed-up royally and were behind the eight ball.  No communication or verification nothing but an all night long battle of survival as pallets of product were stacked five high down corridors, hallways any open space was fair game as production had to pack out the product already produced within a specific time frame.  The company in a word had been taken, hostage.

The ASRS operators still available were refusing over time even the forced four hours and the union was standing up for them pointing out the safety issues of working all the extra hours and demanding the return of the fired workers while not allowing the training of any additional ASRS personnel keeping the company hostage.  After a few days of keeping on their game face, and saying everything was all right the company quietly began to negotiate an end to the hostage situation along with dealing with the backlog of the finished product all over the facility.  The deal eventually worked out after hours of negotiating brought back all the terminated employees, they all had to attend drug and alcohol rehabilitation, were on a one-year probation for drug use, had to train additional employees and management as well as document procedures on the ASRS while the company promised and began the painful process of upgrading the system to twenty-first century technology.

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This is a lesson that was not cheap.  The overtime alone to count inventory and to get all the finished product into the ASRS system was ridiculous and it took weeks to get shipping and invoicing back to normal.  A binder was created with all the information needed so that even a caveman could operate the ASRS and the cost of the upgrade was hovering at $One Million.  This all could have been avoided and not an issue if upper management kept their eye on the big picture and allowed their supervisors and managers to do their job of training and documenting training but they had no experience in manufacturing and were lost in all the complexities of an aging system and ancient techniques while trying to meet the demands of today.

As I’ve said many times you reap what you sow.  You don’t have to be a boss hogs taskmaster but you must hold people accountable for their actions after a thorough explanation of the rules, expectations, and consequences.  You are in charge of your realm of the kingdom that makes up the company so RUN IT!  Be proactive, do a yearly hazard inspection, check emergency gear, create a safety committee, do your walk and be on the floor 80% of the time so you know what’s going on and what your workers are dealing with.  For more tips and ideas on leadership or if you have questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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The Hawaiian Shirt Rebellion

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Some times the best way to improve morale in a company is with a subversive action especially if it just ever so slightly breaks a rule and has been coordinated with the entire staff.

Our family owned company had recently been bought by a large corporation.  We were their new shining addition to the family and after a long grueling process of upgrading our systems and intercommunications, we learned the new rules of the road.  New training, new reports, new programs, new ways of doing things and new dress code.  Morale was very low and our new corporate masters were not seeing it at all and just kept pushing without stopping even for a second so we could catch our breath. 

The leaders of the resistance were all young professionals in their late 20’s to early ’30s. Even though we each worked in a different department, (engineering, maintenance, production, quality control, and facilities) we had become pretty tight over the years not only because we were close in age but our eclectic mix of personalities worked so well  and our positions naturally had us working together to resolve production issues.  We also went to ballgames after work together, Oakland A’s were only a few BART stations away and we shared drinks on Fridays to celebrate our victories and console our loses that week.  

Even though the statute of limitations has long expired I still will not reveal the other members of the resistance but admit that I was one of the members.  On one particular Friday, while drinking and complaining, it came up that July 1st was around the corner and the beginning of the new fiscal year.  What could we do to celebrate the occasion and help break up the funk at work and get morale back to where it needed to be.  There was a definite correlation between the number of drinks consumed and the innovation and creativity of ideas put forward by the group.  Silliness turned to anger and then anger back again to silliness.  The drinks and hours went by until we broke for the night and our weekend.

Monday morning seemingly came around too fast and at our morning break, we again went over our plan to make sure this is the statement we wanted to make.  The six of us talking just above whispers and constantly looking over our shoulders so no one else could hear us or most importantly know we were behind what was about to happen.  We thought a strategic strike against the new dress code would get a smile out of almost everyone.  Previously there was no dress code except the unwritten rule of, when we had visitors at the plant we had to wear slacks and a button shirt and now we had to dress that way every day.  They wouldn’t even listen to having a dress down Friday.  We swore our allegiance to each other after the break and each put their part of the plan into play.

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The fake memo was completed by one member and the copies made late at night by another and I came in extremely early to place memos directly on employees desk.  The company leadership such as the President, VP’s and Plant Manager were left off the distribution list.  The memo on the usual company letterhead was plain and simple.  A picture of a Hawaiian shirt and the following,  “To Celebrate the new fiscal year, Friday has been declared as Hawaiian shirt day!  Wear your best Hawaiian shirt and be ready to party.”

The rest of the week we monitored all gossip and conversations to make sure this was still a secret, really going to happen and be a pleasant surprise for all.  Friday came and we met in the employee lot, donning our Hawaiian shirts and to no surprise, all of us had brought a backup outfit just in case it really went south as we had no idea what kind of participation we would get from the rest of the staff.  People sounded excited about the idea but would it carry all week?  We huddled, put our hands in and shouted, “GO HAWAII”!  

The six of us walked in together to meet our destiny, but were stopped in our tracks by our dropped jaws and were totally blown away!  Not only did most of the staff arrive wearing Hawaiian shirts, but the rest had brought them and changed into them here.  Some really embraced the spirit of the day and were wearing leis or playing ukeleles and a few had plastic blow-up palm trees and one surfboard.  Then there was a sound coming from the lunchroom that we hadn’t heard in a while.  Laughter.  People were laughing, talking, smiling and enjoying themselves. WE did it! 

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Then the inquisition came. Our VP of Human Resources was a particularly special stick in the mud.  No sense of humor, no jokes, no laughs and extremely pompous.  If you had the misfortune of a meeting with him they always took twice as long as with anyone else since he constantly took phone calls during the meeting so you can add rude to the list as well.  Our VP of HR began his investigation into Hawaiigate and seek out the culprit or culprits responsible!  First, the usual suspects’ were interrogated and then other people were summoned to the office and asked, “Where did this memo come from?”  They all answered as we hoped, it was on my desk when I arrived.  Each member of the resistance was also called into his office, one at a time and asked if we knew or heard anything?  We all responded in kind, as shocked as he was that this could happen but had no clue as to who.

Mr. VP of HR eventually gave up his witch hunt and no one was ever punished for the crime but a flurry of new policies followed along with the consequences for future infractions of HR law. The President of the company actually loved the Hawaiian shirt idea so much,  every Friday was now dress-down day and the second Friday of each month was a different themed employee day. 

Sometimes the only way to shake a culture up is with a little internal rebellion.   

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Companies Behaving Badly-The Hole

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Welcome back and thank you for joining us in another episode of Companies Behaving Badly.  Hope all is going well.

I  hate to always reference my old childhood days and how things were growing up back then but it is my baseline and even though comparing anything to today’s world is not really fair as it’s more apples/oranges kind of thing, seriously, who thought there would come a time when ethics, morals, accountability, and responsibility would fade out of style?  Who knew that the more debilitating problem for companies today is not the ever-widening “skills gap” but is actually the “leadership hole”!

We are in desperate need of leadership as a large vacant hole has developed.  Leaders that listen to every voice and understand their needs in developing consensus with all groups and that it is more important than just winning at all cost for your side.  Unfortunately, there is no short supply of examples out there of the existence of the leadership hole and by all accounts, it’s only getting wider, deeper and we’re all sinking into it.  Leaders who believed that they should be in charge worked hard to get good returns on investment, enough to keep the people happy and enough happy people to drown out the little voices, like wisps of smoke that would rise time to time of abuse and corruption which were really driving the ROI as ethical and moral behavior became profit stoppers.  As long as things were good, a deaf ear was more than the latest corporate fashion.  Luckily the same time as the voices got louder, these honorable men running corporations avoiding responsibility and accountability, believing ethics and morals are weaknesses rather than strengths finally had it all explode in their faces. 

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A gas pipeline blew up murdering 8, a bank caught creating fraudulent accounts, a social media company sold us all out.  They accepted reality television accountability as PGE, Wells Fargo Bank, Uber and FaceBook to mention a few now spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns telling us how sorry they are that they lied and let the green glow of cash and power blind them rendering their moral compass useless and the reason why they didn’t think twice about ripping us off.  “We’re sorry”  “We went astray” “Lost the path”  “We’ll do better”.  All things men caught cheating on their wives says.  By all accounts, not one of them has gone to jail and the ones who did lose their jobs, don’t waste your time feeling sorry for them, they landed on their feet with the ability to go astray again at any time.  Cause “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” and they love us, or our greenbacks actually.

Those corporations were only the tip of the iceberg.  Now the leaders of the largest colleges and universities who are entrusted with the task of teaching, training and preparing our future leaders have let us all down, giving the lesson that listening is not important especially if it’s something you don’t want to hear about the “good ole boys.”  First hand demonstrating to future leaders how to ignore the voices of young women who only want an education and career but had to work twice as hard to get there due to the constant body shaming, abuse, and rape!  Michigan State and U.S.C. , great schools now saying how sorry they are.  Even the city of Berkeley, California where many a mind has been enlightened over the years has sent the message to women of you are not important enough to listen too, as rape kits sat on shelves only collecting dust instead of collecting evidence.

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Look I get it.  When you accept responsibility it takes work, lots of work.  Following up on work-related issues, reviewing your process, talking to employees and listening, finding and filling the cracks in the process, budgets, competition, employee retention, and your bonus. When you’re responsible you also need to be proactive as well, guessing what the future will bring and how to deal with it.  That’s also hard work.   That’s why so many of our leaders just keep the status quo, you don’t have to work as hard and listen to or care about all those whiny people and still collect all your bonuses even if they don’t make the goal.  Life is wonderful when you can shed all your morals and ethics for a few dollars more.

Will there be a new we’re sorry ad campaign in the future for–Bumble Bee CEO Indicted On Charge He Fixed Canned Tuna Price.  Smart and lazy CEO decided hey, we don’t need to compete against each other and fight for a market share when we can all just share the wealth by pricing our product exactly the same.  We all win!  When you shed your morals it is so easy to do and if you think they’re the only ones doing this…..

Then there is ethics I can never understand and seems both ironic and hypocritical to me at the same time.  Human life is a human life, right?  If I believe that human life needs to protected at all costs wouldn’t you want to protect them just as much from dying on the job as from the hands of terrorists? Despite wave of fatal building accidents in Israel, safety is rarely enforced.   Over 100 have died on the job since 2016 but they are still not taking workplace safety seriously letting many of these corrupt construction companies to operate freely and keep killing workers.  If the PLO had taken 100 Israeli lives there would be an uproar for blood, revenge, and retaliation but I guess when you kill your own building, that’s o.k.  It seems to me if you protect human live all lives should matter equally.

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We all rely on and love our local Firefighters.  They do so many wonderful things like put out large and small fires, work in burning buildings to save people, rescue small animals from trees or sewers and make a fabulous calendar but one thing they are not is expendable.  State fines Camas $4800 over firefighter safety violations.  The city of Camas should be ashamed to put two firefighters in danger the way they did.  The job is difficult enough as it is and the key to firefighting is working as a team to make sure everyone is safe while accomplishing their assignments during a fire.  As I have said in previous blogs, my city of Vallejo, a population of 121,000 has only 21 firefighters on each shift and we still have to ask for mutual assistance several times a week between freeway accidents, house fires, chemical spills, and other emergency calls.  

Why be complicit in your own death?  Wichita roofing contractor cited by OSHA.  What kind of moron sends employees out on a roof without fall protection?  Well, Jose Barrientos for one, who was cited by OSHA for exposing employees to falls and other safety hazards and now faces proposed penalties of up to $191,071.  To make it worse 2 of the violations were WILLFUL which means he knew it was wrong and dangerous to not provide fall protection and that someone could be killed but he DIDN’T CARE which is obvious since he’s been cited 5 times in the last 10 years.  Time to shut him down!  This is why falls continue to be the OSHA number 1 violation and killer.  Don’t put your life at risk and if you are bullied or threatened to be fired for doing an unsafe act call the OSHA hotline 1 – 800 – 321 – 6742

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Every job, heck everything you do has its own set of inheriting dangers and how we mitigate those dangers and awareness of those dangers helps keep us safe but you still never know.  These gentlemen were doing their job, covering a story to keep others safe. Thoughts go out to the families of  TV News Anchor, Photographer Die When Tree Crushes Their Vehicle.  This is why you hug, smile and say I love you every day to loved ones, for you don’t know how long that enjoyment will last.  

Until next month my friends, (yes, there will be no issue on June 21, summer hours folks) stay safe and never keep quiet about safety, for the life you save may be your own.

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Companies Behaving Badly – Disadvantage

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Welcome back for another new episode, always appreciate you stopping by for a visit.  Hope your Valentine’s Day was enjoyable or at least tolerable.  It may help to remember the words of the great philosopher Stephen Stills who said,  “And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey Love the one you’re with.”

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One of the most interesting things I find to deal with in life, is people who go out of their way to make it more difficult for someone to succeed.  Whether it’s refusing to share information, spreading vicious rumors or purposely sabotaging a project, they seem to get some kind of sick joy watching the suffering and struggling of others.  If they’re a stranger on the street who can’t be bothered to give you directions that’s one thing but when they’re your boss or the company itself creating the disadvantage that can become quite a ugly situation.

HP Pelzer Systems Automotive Inc. is an example of a company that put their employees at a disadvantage by offering no training, no LOTO procedures which led to the amputation of a finger putting that worker at a further disadvantage.  Max Penalties Proposed For Safety Violations At Georgia Auto Parts Manufacturer.  This was PREVENTABLE by training workers on energy control procedures but the company couldn’t be bothered to do so and now they face a proposed fine of $129,336.  Training would have been much cheaper which would have prevented the amputation which would never have brought OSHA to their facility.  If you begin working at a company and they offer no training at all on safety issues, then find another job, these guys care nothing about you or your well being.

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Perhaps you work on the loading dock.  Moving pallets of products on and off trailers at a rapid pace.  Do you ever wonder what you’re moving?  Is it volatile?  Can it explode?  Another disadvantage to workers is when companies don’t inform you of the dangerous chemicals and solvents you’re moving around the facility or even worse don’t train you how to react if a chemical leak or potential explosion situation does arise.  Never Underestimate the Risk of Explosion in a Freight and Logistics Warehouse .  Again, this is a PREVENTABLE situation by getting the proper training on how to handle a liquid spill on the dock to understanding what the different symbols on the packaging means along with a updated and current SDS.  Can you use water to contain it and do you have to use respirators?  If there is NO training on the handling of chemicals or a SDS you can reference, you are in danger of losing your life and this employer doesn’t care.  It may be time to move on.

One of the most despicable disadvantages handed to workers is when there are laws on the books to protect them from harm and mistreatment but then the laws are not enforced.  Farm safety checks fall by a third.  It is usually found out after someone is severely injured or killed and the public wonders how it happened.  Then the apologies come out, we’re sorry we neglected this but want to assure you all that we are taking this very seriously.   Or my favorite, we need to put tougher laws on the books to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, when they already had laws on the books but didn’t bother to enforce them.  Those are the situations when public officials should be going to jail for ignoring health and safety of the public.

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Like the city of Oakland’s poor leadership.  They have all kinds of fire, health and safety laws on the books but let them all fall through the cracks and did nothing except pass the buck.  CA City Sued for Fire that Killed Four People at Halfway House.  The famous Ghost Ship fire that killed 36 generated lots of finger pointing in Oakland’s city hall but then after all that they continue to dig themselves in a deeper hole as they’re being sued by families of 4 who died in another fire less then four months after Ghost Ship.  Just as PGE who sat idly by and hoped for the best while they had no clue where there dangerous gas lines were that led to the murder of 8 people in a fierce explosion, the city of Oakland is following in their bloody footprints, killing innocent civilians. 

Another disadvantage is when manufacturers create a problem, agree with the public how terrible it is but won’t fix it and now, Lawmakers Seek Safer Packaging For Toxic Laundry Pods.  That’s right, they insisted on making cute little pods with bright colors and full of chemicals making it look like a treat each and every child wants.  There was no need to make them like this but some moron in marketing thought it was a great idea to sell more pods and now we have a serious problem that lawmakers are going to fix.  That alone should be frightening to all.  If less people use the pods and boycott their use they will change it.  The public did it before initiating change by not buying a product and folks, it’s time again.  Don’t buy pods.  Make the manufacturers fix their problem.

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Considering the disadvantages mentioned above it is no wonder that employees believe their employers policies are not aligned with their safety at the workplace.  Workplace Safety: Employee Perceptions, Employer Policies Not Aligned.  The good news is this is PREVENTABLE.   Speak up at work and never keep quiet about safety.  If there is no safety committee at your job, begin one.  Speak with HR and insist that you want to have  safety committee meetings, safety training and drills on proper evacuation in the event of a disaster.  If no one listens to you CALL OSHA.  Make a complaint at 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA).  You have every right to live and be free of dangers.

Our political brain trust got to see first hand how dangerous our railroads are.  Don’t you find it amazing that in a great country like ours a person can’t get on a train without wondering if I’ll die on the way there?  Very sad.  With Amtrak crash, Congress faced a deadly rail danger firsthand.  This is so PREVENTABLE but then no one seems to be in a rush to prevent further deaths.  Has life become that cheap?  Write your congressperson and Senator and tell them, you want safe transportation on the railroads and will accept nothing less.

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Railroad passengers aren’t the only disadvantaged people as now we have the numbers that show almost half of all deaths on the construction site are due to FALLS!  Nearly half of all construction worker deaths are fall-related, database finds.  This is disadvantage is happening because YOU are allowing it to happen.  Since man can’t fly without the benefit of an aircraft and since man is not immortal when you climb out onto a roof or ledge over six feet from the ground you MUST insist on fall protection gear.  Falls are the #1 OHSA violation and killer overall and all construction companies know that OSHA requires fall protection so don’t let them tell you otherwise.  It is against the law for someone to threaten you or your job to do an unsafe act.  Just say NO.

However, one good piece of news is Toyota-lift of Minnesota is giving VETS an advantage.  Forklift Training: Giving Vets A Lift.  They have certified 90 veterans so far and still going for more.  Bravo for your efforts and giving veterans a chance to be productive after their service to our country.

That brings this episode of companies behaving badly to a close.  Remember, you don’t have to be disadvantaged.  Do your research, google topics as needed and never be afraid to speak up.  The life you save may be your own.  Until next month, stay safe.

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Companies Behaving Badly-Man Made

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This month Witzshared is featuring a guest blogger, Amanda from Shop Floor Automation.  If you scroll down you will find it right after this one!  Enjoy

Welcome back.  Hope your Thanksgiving holiday was magnificent

After 65 years of observation and information gathering while enjoying my ride on this beautiful world I have come to the conclusion that most of the problems we have are man made.  I don’t mean man in the sense of mankind, but the gender, male.  For over thousands of years, man has assumed the leadership roll apparently due to a dangling digit and have been making life decisions for everyone since then and as we’ve all seen they’ve done a pretty poor job.  Yea, I know, men were the hunters and had to deal with the dangers of mastodons and other wild animals but who do you think took care of cave security while the men were out on the town? 

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Even after women demonstrated they had the abilities to lead countries and great armies, like Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth I, Katherine the Great and Queen Daenerys Targaryen, (just wanted to see if you’re paying attention) man still kept power close to the vest and wouldn’t give women the credit they deserved and kept them from owning property, from voting and from being in a bar unescorted.  Then WWII came along and women stepped up and did a hell of a lot more then USO shows and handing out cups of hot joe and donuts.  They once again demonstrated their abilities by keeping the factories churning out munitions, tanks and planes.  They filled in as bus drivers, messengers, welders and pilots.  Then after a day at the factory they had to make due with rationed supplies of everyday food items.  The war ended and man expected everything to return to as it was but women wouldn’t forget about their taste of freedom.  The embers continued to smolder until the late 60’s and early 1970’s women burned their bras and demanded to be equal and why not?

We’ve been taught that one of the rallying cries at the beginning of American’s revolution was “taxation without representation”.  We dumped tea over it and then fought a war.  Women now account for 51% of the population and yet they are represented in the house and senate by only 19% women.  That’s “sexation without representation”, another good reason for a revolution.

Two of the best bosses I’ve ever had during my career were both women.  They were nurturing, understanding, communicated clearly, gave clear goals and the tools needed to achieve them and never micromanaged or blindsided me with bull crap.  They allowed me to grow and develop with their input, unthreatening approach and evaluations.  In all those years working with them not once, was I inappropriately touched, offered a promotion for sexual favors or saw them in a towel let alone invited to their home alone.  They never made comments about how I looked in jeans or how my hair smelt, they never once expressed how they wanted to pound the guy on the forklift, they never wondered out loud how a worker would be in bed or if they wore boxers or briefs.  They respected me for me and what I could do for the company, not what favor I could do for them because they understood if I succeeded it made them look good.  I can’t say the same for most of my male bosses since they would usually get tangled in their egos or too busy marking their territory to listen and usually sizing me up not as a potential collaborator as my female bosses did but as potential competition.

'What took you so long?'

‘What took you so long?’

I’ve had some good man bosses but I can’t tell you how many times male supervisors or managers felt the need to discuss their hypothetical situations that involved women whether they be employees, vendors, delivery drivers or neighbors.  At one company, it was within days of working there I was told all kinds of rumors from several sources about one specific manager who was taking advantage of female workers.  Everyone knew about it but little was being done to stop it, just like in Hollywood, because he had power and was getting the job done and making money for the company, even though he was a pig and managed with intimidation, back stabbing and lying.  The company dragged their heels on doing something even with the few complaints filed for his behavior, his off color jokes, his use of words that always reflected evil and hate.  Finally a manager from another department had had enough and waited for the right time and purposely barged into his office to find him in a compromising situation.  However, we were shocked, as true to their form the company terminated her but only reprimanded him, since for some reason they deemed this dirtbag necessary to keep the company going, which he wasn’t.  Then the dam broke and the internal uproar finally came as other folks in management positions in the company, workers and the union complained and threatened strikes and bad publicity.  The company finally had to do the right thing, terminated him and brought her back. 

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Later on in my career another man boss of mine would enjoy his morning cup of coffee in my office soon after the end of each quarter because he loved to brag about how his wife didn’t know he was getting bonuses and how he kept it in a secret account.  Not only did he not want to share it with her, but his bonuses were also a result of the work my staff and I were getting done and he never once bought us lunch or said thanks, but constantly micromanaged.  I don’t understand people who brag about being assholes but then he probably thought I was being one when I asked his wife at the company Christmas Party if they were going to travel with the bonus money.

I have been a very lucky person and have had some great experiences along with the bad ones over my life but my best friend has always been there to get me through them.  She also happens to be my partner and wife.  We’ve been together for 45 years and married for 41.  We compliment each other very well so if she sees the glass half empty and I see it as half full we smile since we know we have a full glass between us.  Even when we’ve disagreed or had a heated argument we’ve always respected each other and never stopped loving.  Through her I’ve learned to look at things from all sides before judging.  When something bothers her to the point it’s the size of a boulder (I love this analogy) but could mean very little to me like a pebble, it would be easy for me to dismiss her feelings.  That would not work well and kill any further communication and my relationship.  So instead I’ve learned to look at it as an obstacle (of various size and shape) and listen, allowing her to express her feelings and concerns and vent, then we can discuss and move on to the appropriate level of fear, concern or paranoia or if it’s part of the overall un-named conspiracy.

There is a funny scene from the movie “No Time for Sergeants” when Pvt. Will Stockdale (Andy Griffith) sees a female officer for the first time and Pvt. Whitledge (Nick Adams) tells him you don’t worry if it’s a woman, you just see a captain.  Maybe that is something we can all try.  No matter who you work with just respect them for who they are because the packaging on the outside is not as important or valuable as what’s inside.  So be it man or woman, black or white, straight or lgbtq, atheist or Islamic, they are all people, unique individuals eking out an existence just like you and me.

But, if you do see something at the workplace, safety hazard, sexual harassment or bullying, don’t keep quiet because its not boys being boys, it’s much more serious then that.  NEVER keep quiet and say something!  Unfortunately however there are still companies that just don’t respect anything. 

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Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Like at this Wisconsin company hit with $1.8 million fine for ‘egregious’ blast that killed five.  I don’t understand why no one in charge is facing some serious prison time since there were 14 Willful violations found and as we know willful means the company braintrust knew how they were doing things was dangerous and could get someone killed but they couldn’t care less and now FIVE men are dead and leaving one young man, 21, with the loss of both his legs.  Sounds like manslaughter to me.  What disgusts me most is that 8 of the willful violations were repeat.  So they not only knew it was dangerous but were told to fix it and still didn’t bother.  Dust accumulation is not like the dust bunnies under your bed.  When there is enough particles in the air within a confined space, all it takes is a little spark.  Gunpowder is a great example.  A small pile of gunpowder in an open field when lit will only burn and smoke, it doesn’t explode but when you take that gunpowder and cram a space with it like a shell casing or a fire cracker when it’s lit, BOOM!  Dust explosions was also a risk at sugar refineries and that’s why they take special precautions to make sure there is not threat of an explosion.  You should also be wearing dusk masks and eye protection within that environment as well.

Dad’s death highlights gap between how OSHA polices government vs. private sectorI find this very upsetting and don’t understand why we can’t have universal safety program across the board.  Not so we can fine these companies and tell them how bad they are but to also educate companies about safety and review accidents so we can learn from them and do a better job of prevention.  When Tom Wooten a 56 year old was trapped between a tractor and the trailer and killed working for the Highway Department, instead of being investigated by OSHA the accident was looked into by the State Department of Labor who only visited the site and closed the case because municipalities don’t have to have OSHA come in.  What makes this stupid, is the fact that the state doesn’t seem to want to make safety a priority for their employees.  Wouldn’t you want to know how to prevent an accident from occurring again?  I know I would and most intelligent folks do.

Now for something new – This month Witzshared is featuring a guest blog from the cool folks at Shop Floor Automation.

Twitter Account @SFA_inc               shopfloor

Shop Floor Automations, Inc.
(619) 461-4000
www.shopfloorautomations.com

Byline: Amanda Rosenblatt, Marketing Coordinator at Shop Floor Automations

Safety, Productivity & Automation Go Hand-in-Hand

Our priorities in manufacturing often come down to money. Profits are important. ROI is crucial. Reducing downtime also helps to cut down on wasted raw material. But what about the safety of our employees?

The sad fact is that there are some employees who won’t make it home for the holidays this year, or will be having a rough holiday season, because of work place accidents that could have been avoided. It’s not something we like to think about, but it’s a harsh reality.

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The manufacturing field is suffering from a skills gap, which is why protecting our skilled workers is of the utmost importance. We can also use automation to help fill in productivity holes while new employees with crucial skills come down the workforce pipeline.

When we mention automation, we don’t mean putting robots on the shop floor to replace anyone’s job. There are easy-to-use hardware and software solutions that can be implemented to help address certain safety issues on the shop floor.

We have handpicked some of OSHA’s Top Workplace Safety Violations from 2017 and suggest 3 automation solutions to help with these issues:

Height: Ladders were the Number 6 OSHA issue in 2017 with 2200+ citations, as well as the related issues of fall protection training (Number 9, 1500+ citations) and fall protection general requirements (Number 1, 6000+ citations).

Solution: One big reason employees may be getting up into high spots in an unsafe manner is due to cabling. It is likely a tangled mess, with an example being this photo we took from a customer visit. Not only is the fall from the height a problem, but what about the dust, dirt, contaminants, and animals that could potentially be hiding in here? Replacing all this cabling with a wireless program transfer system is one solution to help keep employees on the ground.

Make Sure Lockout Tagout is Implemented

Lockout/Tagout: OSHA reported 2800+ citations pertaining to improper lockout/tagout procedures, making it their Number 5 issue in 2017. When a machine is turned on while undergoing maintenance, it can lead to horrible accidents on the shop floor, including death.

Solution: With machine monitoring software implemented along with shop floor monitors, an operator can input a universal note stating a particular machine is to be left undisturbed. This note can be updated in real-time and is available across the whole shop floor, which helps not only with safety, but with machine utilization. This means other operators can find another machine to move a job to until further notice or update the customer on changes in order status.

Bad Cabling for Shop Floor

Electrical Wiring Methods: OSHA stated electrical wiring methods was their Number 10 issue in 2017 at 1400+ violations. This covers a wide range of issues, so consulting with an expert is your best chance at avoiding an electricity-related accident.

Solution: Have a manufacturing integrator evaluate how your machines are connected. A properly trained technician will be able to correctly configure surge-suppressed hardware, for example. These experts can often help you save more energy while pointing out potential hazards you may have overlooked. They can also provide you with cables that are properly shielded and can stand up to caustic environments.

About SFA: Shop Floor Automations is a manufacturing integrator based in San Diego established in 1998. We service all of the USA plus parts of Mexico and Canada. We are on social media on Twitter @SFA_inc, as well as on Facebook, YouTube, & Instagram under our company name. Call for more info at (877) 611-5825 or Email info@shopfloorautomations.com

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Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to stop by and check us out. As you prepare for the holidays, it’ll be busy and hectic so please don’t drive distracted or with a buzz.  You want to get to and from Grandma’s house.

Never keep quiet about safety for the life you safe may be your own.  Until the next issue.

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Companies Behaving Badly-Practice What You Preach

Preacher

Welcome back. Happy Day of the Dead.

Practice what you preach!  That’s what I was taught as a child growing up on the streets of the Bronx back in the dark ages, (1950’s-60’s).  You practice what you preach, lead by example, do as I do!  So when I first supervised and told workers that their safety was important, I never allowed a corner to be cut for the sake of saving time or looked the other way during horseplay under the guise of boys will be boys.  I practiced what I preached cause I had to answer to one person and one person only.  Myself.  I had to be able to deal with the guilt if someone got hurt because I didn’t do or say something and I knew that wasn’t me.  So I took the path of practicing what I preached and was bullied, ignored, harassed, threatened and fired for doing so.  But I was also rewarded, promoted, appreciated and honored for taking that path at.  The path has always been the same, just different terrains, cultures and experiences. 

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So if we are going to practice what we preach, we can no longer be allowed to use the following phrase as an excuse, “boys will be boys”.  It can no longer be tolerated, embellished, chucked at, shoulder shrugged or eye rolled.  “Boys will be boys.” is no longer an excuse when someone is found at work joy riding on powered industrial equipment or using powered industrial equipment to perform dangerous acts well beyond the safe operation of the equipment.  “Boys being boys” can not only no longer be tolerated in a workplace that wants to have a respected safety program but in ALL aspects of life as it will no longer be an acceptable excuse to explain poor behavior.  Boys will be boys can no longer explain dangerous hazing rituals, drinking initiations or paying your dues.  Boys will be boys will no longer be used to explain inappropriate touching, verbal abuse and degrading of women.  You’d think by time you get to the age of adulthood and begin working for a living the practical jokes suffered in elementary school, the bullying of JHS and the initiations of freshmen and overall silliness of high school would be done.  Yet  it never seems to end, as boys will be boys.

So we deal with this like we do with everything else.  Our leaders decide we need new laws.  Not just any new laws but new and improved laws with teeth because the old laws didn’t work as well.  But as we all know, laws or rules or regulations are only as good as they’re enforced!   While the news media covers the making of the new laws along with the names of the brilliant leaders who give us the new laws, it tells us, they must be solving our problem.  I no longer have to worry since we have such great new laws!  Soon the fanfare dies down and the new laws are treated just like the old laws, lapses in coverage, uneven enforcement, not consistent for all and then those who are rich will get around the new laws and those that are poor will do the time, but then, thats just boys being boys.

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When Police officers and firefighters see something odd in a warehouse, like people living there when they shouldn’t, electrical wires and extension cords running all over and wall to wall junk no matter what the law, if they don’t say something, nothing happens people may die and even if they do say something and nothing is done up the line, again, the laws are useless since people still die.  It’s up to all of us, Men and Women working together to help enforce them.  We are people folks.  All born the same way and no matter what our packaging is, white, black, yellow or red we are all gray in our heads and red in our arteries and blue in our veins.  We need to protect each other.

One of the good things about practicing what you preach is you could prevent yourself from being blown-up.  Foreman didn’t follow protocol before Detroit explosion, manager says.  Sounds like a rookie mistake but the foreman, Anthony Tower, 62, had decided that even though he was trained and probably trained others to use water only to wash out the bin.  He wanted to give his two workers an important lesson on, do as I say not as I do, and took a metal shovel to clear the bin wall which created a spark and the following explosion.  Surprise!  Luckily no one died but they were all sent to the hospital for treatment with one worker sustaining bad burns.  As much as the foreman didn’t follow protocol, I have found that workers are lax on safety and procedure when the culture, created by management, allows it.  I say that because this company Northeast Agricultural Sales, Inc. was fined in 2014 for 10 safety violations after a bin collapsed and injured a worker.  Do it right the first time and live a happy life with all your limbs.

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When it comes to “practice what you preach” what is the time frame?  WV DEP found problems at Parkersburg warehouse earlier this year, records show.  If you didn’t know, the Parkersburg warehouse had burned for 8 days!  Yes, over a week and the smoke was toxic and no one knows what’s really burning since the company won’t say and probably have no idea themselves.  They were inspected by the state earlier this year and they found all kinds of violations that indicated continued problems at the facility such as their unsatisfactory general housekeeping while operations, maintenance and storage were found marginal and nothing was done.  Waste and pellets were scattered around the site, a diesel spill had not been fully cleaned up, deteriorating storage drums exposed to the elements as well as not submitted required monthly progress reports and still, nothing was done.  Two local volunteer firefighters had warned nearly a decade before that this could be a potential major fire and yet nothing was done.  Just boys being boys under the poor leadership of morally bankrupt morons.

When it comes to practice what you preach I find industry groups are the best at promoting their industry but the worst at telling the truth of the safety of their product or their own preachings. They say they don’t need no government watchdog but that they can regulate and monitor themselves and not kill anyone in the process.  The American Petroleum Institute just flat out ignored the problem when they failed to respond to concerns about oil train safety even after a town was obliterated from the map when 47 of it’s residents were vaporized by a derailed oil train.  American Petroleum Institute Failed to Respond to Concerns of Oil Train Safety.  Even though they supply the railroad with their oil cars they don’t care after that, it’s in the railroads hands and their problem now.  When we hear of the horrors of mass shootings or trucks running over as many people as possible we wonder how people can be so heartless to take a life yet we sit by and allow industries to put dangerous railcars on the tracks, store chemicals in reckless fashion, pollute the air and poison our water.  Fyi, it’s still murder, just a lot more subtle about it. 

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It’s always interesting to see how a company reacts to adversity.  When Tesla began to fall behind on meeting it’s production goals and had a rash of industrial accidents, so instead of looking at their safety and training program they,  Tesla fired hundreds of employees in past week.  Sounds like the way to go and just gives workers more reason to want the union in place to protect them.

Speaking of training,  The top five workplace safety issues faced by small Aussie businesses revealed.  Australia has rolled out new workplace rules and regulations and like with any new program the literature and training is not helping much as small companies are concerned about the complexity of the rules and constant changing along with the paperwork.  Let’s hope the government offers lots of patience and tolerance as people adjust.  Maybe a better way of getting the message out is in order as well.

Building a better death trap.  OSHA Investigation Finds Hazards Remain at North Jersey Warehouse.  What began as an employee complaint, OSHA came in and found blocked exit routes, blocked electrical panels and struck by hazards so they cited the company in February.  OSHA returned recently and found that just about nothing had been fixed and workers were still being exposed to hazards so this time they’ve been hit with a potential fine of $181,280.  It would have been much cheaper just to fix things in the first place but some companies just have to do it the hard way and that’s why you should never keep quiet about safety.  If it doesn’t look right and appears dangerous, then it probably is.  Say something and if you’re ignored called the OSHA hotline 1-800-321-6742.

Back quickly to Australia.  They are doing something that is happening more in this country.  That is giving out prison sentences if a worker dies due to company negligence.  Yes,  Industrial Manslaughter – Up to 20 Years Imprisonment and Maximum AUD10 Million Fine for Corporate Offenders.

  angerissueburning dIt is amazing that the San Francisco Bay area, teeming with entrepreneurial spirit, rich in investors, and near by silicon valley that we are saddled with two of the most inept companies.  PGE has had a vacuum in leadership for years now, as profits became more important then human lives and BART, the transit company that made dummy surveillance cameras and dummy transit cops a thing.  State agency slaps BART with a nearly $220,000 fine for worker deaths  Their continued lack of leadership earned them a $220,000 fine from CalOSHA for the deaths of two maintenance workers hit by a train.  The incident exposed BART’s horrible training program for new train drivers and the lack of communication about scheduled maintenance and repairs and protecting workers.

True trickle down economics, California style.  Legal marijuana causes warehouse rent to skyrocket in Sacramento – 4 or 5 times normal

That brings this episode of Companies Behaving Badly to a close.  Thanks for stopping by and taking time out of your busy day.  Please feel free to use any of these stories at your next safety tailgate/toolbox meeting.  Safety is everybody’s job, don’t be afraid to ask questions, do your own research on the web.  It’s you life.  Until next time, please never keep quiet about safety, for the life you save may be your own.

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A Complete Guide To Warehouse Safety -Volume 2 – PPE

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Dorothy was still not sure what had just happened or any clue about the dead inspector but she knew she wanted out of this nightmare and to be back home so finding this head of OSHA sounded like the best way right now. So she set out on the green brick road hoping to make it to the Emerald city.  After walking along the road for what seemed like hours she was beginning to regret not paying more attention at the safety meetings at work.  If only I had listened maybe I wouldn’t be in this predicament, but maybe I’ll wake up soon and this will be over but the pain coming from her feet because the ruby steel toed boots were rubbing convinced her this was, oh my, could this, could this be for real?

She saw a large boulder on the side of the road and decided to take a break from walking and to feel sorry for herself.  I can’t believe this?  Why didn’t I listen?  I could have been in the shelter and done but no, I had to be, Ms. oh that will never happen to me. “Go figure, huh.”  Dorothy jumped right up and turned around, who was that?  The voice echoed back, “it’s me.”  Who? I can’t see you, come out of the bushes.  “I would if I could but I’m done here in a hole.”  Dorothy peeked over the boulder and could see a fairly good sized hole in the ground.  How’d you get in there?  “I’m not really sure. We were suppose to do some confined space work for the Emerald city public works, somewhere I blacked out and woke up, in here all alone.”  “I know I was suppose to wear a harness with a cable attached so they could pull me out quickly if they had too.  But they didn’t have one and they said that was o.k. this time.  Then I was suppose to wear a respirator before I climbed in, just in case there were any hazardous gases or vapors present, but they didn’t have one and they said that was o.k. this time.  I was suppose to wear a bump camp to protect my head just in case rocks and debris feel in, but they didn’t have one and they said that o.k. this time.”  O.k. I get it, Dorothy responded, you didn’t get any PPE to wear.  “PPE?  No, they didn’t have a bump cap.”  O.K!  What”s your name  “They call me Scarecrow because of my blonde hair and I’m kind of scatterbrained.  I know the right thing to do but tend to lose focus and veer off track and forget.”  Dorothy finally worked up the courage to get closer to the hole in the ground to get a view of Scarecrow.

She peered in, my name is Dorothy.  “Hi”, he said as he waved up to her.  “What are you doing way out here.”  I’m on my way to see the head of OSHA in the Emerald city.  I heard he may be able to help get me home.  “Oh, are you far from home?”  Yes, yes I am, very far from home.  Hey, maybe the head guy can get you the PPE you need so you don’t wind up in a hole alone again?  Do you want to go?  “That sounds great Dorothy, but first I think I need to get out of this hole so I can accompany you.”  Great idea.  She looked around and found what looked like an old ladder that was pretty busted up but should help the Scarecrow climb out of the hole.  When he finally emerged, Dorothy noticed that he was a mess.  He had fingers missing, scars all over and his clothes were ripped and disheveled.  He had been in the hole for such a long time he had trouble standing up and would flop but the two of them were determined to continue their journey on the Green Brick Road of Safety to find the head of OSHA so Dorothy could go home and Scarecrow could get some much needed PPE.

In Volume 1-Begin With Basics, Dorothy began her trip down the Green Brick Road with a job safety analysis, which showed us the types of hazard present and where they’re located.  With this information you can determine what kind of PPE is needed to give further protection to employees as they carry out their daily routines.  

PPE stands for Personal Protection Equipment (Designed to protect workers from serious workplace injuries or illnesses resulting from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical or other workplace hazards).

 

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A Knight’s armor can be considered PPE since the job description includes protecting his King and the realm from enemies which usually included a battle and hand to hand fighting.  His PPE had to help protect him from swords, lances and arrows the best it could so he could continue doing his job and save the kingdom.  However you must make sure the PPE is a appropriate for the conditions where the work is to be performed.  One of the problems with armor was the weight and if a knight was knocked off his horse in a river or lake, they usually drowned.  PPE is to protect you and in no way should be the death of you.  The same would also apply to an athlete getting ready for a football game whether American Football or Soccer.  The equipment worn, shin guards, shoulder pads and helmets are a type of PPE as they give protection needed to play the game but as we’ve seen and heard of late, current helmets are giving inadequate protection and need to be greatly improved to protect players brains.

Apply this thinking to those hazards you located and intersect with the employee.  What added protection will keep them from injury or long term disability.  Usually a safety professional would handle this like the hazard analysis however knowledge is for everyone and all employees, whether management or worker should be aware of why or what PPE may be needed.  You can begin with the five senses, protecting sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

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EYES/SAFETY GLASSES – Sight is a critical sense that needs to be protected at all times in a manufacturing environment especially if employees work in areas where machinery can create flying debris, hot sparks, saw dust and metal shavings.  Safety glasses with side shields or goggles are a good choice.  When corrosive liquids or other chemicals are involved you want to avoid splashes to the face, a face shield would help greatly.  Of late safety eye ware has become a lot more stylish, with colors and shapes.  Remember you want employees to use these items so encourage them and allow a few different choices as long as they are properly rated for the job.

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EARS/HEARING PROTECTION – Hearing is another crucial sense to protect, especially since hearing loss can be gradual over time and not as immediately noticeable like loss of sight.  If you’re working an 8 hour shift in an environment where the noise level is 85dB or higher and you are not consistently wearing ear plugs or ear muffs, you will suffer irreversible damage to your hearing.  Ear plugs are available as daily disposable types that conform to the shape of your ear canal but before you roll them with your fingers to insert make sure your hands are clean or you could inadvertently give yourself an ear infection.  Permanent ear plugs specifically molded for your ears by a professional are also a great way to go. Some very high noise areas, over 100dB require a combination of ear plugs and muffs and also limit the amount of exposure time in that environment. When you take decibel readings to see what PPE is required, make sure to have all machinery running as well as other necessary equipment to get a true sense of the level of noise.  

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HANDS/GLOVESThere are many types of gloves available for just about any application you can think of, made of non-latex, rubber, plastic, leather and synthetic materials.  Moving and handling cartons or wooden pallets you want gloves that fit well an that give you a very good grip as well as protect from splinters.  If your job includes using sharp blades, cutting instruments or other tools there are gloves made from kevlar that prevent lacerations to your hand.  There are gloves that protect you from acid & chemical burns and other corrosive materials as well as thermal gloves for use in extreme temperatures.  Just make sure the glove you issue is rated for the task at hand, are comfortable and flexible to easy digit manipulation.  Gloves can be expensive so make sure you establish a policy of always exchanging a worn pair for new and how many pairs a month you’ll issue to employees who just can’t seem to hold on to a pair for very long.

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LUNGS/DUST MASKS & RESPIRATORS – Areas of the facility where heavy dust, smoke, gas vapors, paint fumes or other harsh toxins are a result of or part of the production process are completed, employees will need some sort of protection.  Whether you’ll only need to use a simple dust mask, respirator or fully contained system depends on the amount of contaminant particles in the air and their toxicity.  In any case the protection will not be sufficient if the item does not fit flush on your face with no gaps around the mask.  With respirators and other systems make sure to place them on a maintenance schedule to ensure they’ll fully operate when needed, especially if they are stored and used for emergency purposes only.

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HEAD/BUMP-CAP -Sometimes employees have to work in cramped spaces or under low hanging obstacles like pipes to make repairs or adjustments to machinery.  To prevent scalp lacerations, concussions and head penetration injuries a bump cap is a good choice. A good way to get workers to wear them consistently is to allow caps with different sports team logos.  A tip for those working around moving machine parts and belts with long hair, it is highly recommended that staff tie up and cover to protect it to prevent hair being caught and you pulled into the machinery.  

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FEET/LEG PROTECTION – You’re probably on you feet during most of the shift so you want shoes that not only protect your feet but offer support and are comfortable. Again as with other PPE the type of footwear you use depends on the environment you’re working in.  On the loading dock where there is forklift traffic, pallets, tailgates, dock levelers, dock workers wear steel tipped shoes to prevent crushed toes and broken bones.  If you work in a cold warehouse you want shoes that keep your feet warm and help prevent slips and falls.  If you work with chemicals, corrosive liquids and acids you want long boots that protect your feet if those items happen to spill.

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ADVERSE CONDITIONS & OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS – Imagine putting yourself inside a washer machine that’s in the middle of a hot warehouse and then having to make repairs to the washer while inside.  That’s what working inside a confined space can feel like. You’re totally enclosed except for a tiny portal. There is not much air movement, it’s hot and dark and there may be lingering toxic gases trapped inside.  Part of PPE are the apparatus, in this case a vest and tether attached to a winch,   that can get you out of that confined space if an emergency was to present itself.   The same goes for fall protection with a vest and safety line that is anchored to a solid fixture so you don’t plummet to the ground.  

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Whether you stand near by and get a blast of heat and fumes as molten metals are poured into molds or picking customer orders for hours at sub zero temperatures inside a giant freezer.  In every case, make sure you do the job using only the proper PPE. It can be a matter of life or death.  Remember, PPE will not work if proper training isn’t given as an accompaniment and you should always be shown how to use and how to wear it properly and understand its limitations and how to maintain it. Training is the key for any successful safe workplace and there is never an excuse for not holding at least a monthly safety meeting as well as encourage the participation of staff on safety committees. Thank you for joining Dorothy on this journey down the Green Brick Road of Safety.  There is still some distance to go. 

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